• The Journal of the Four Stones

    Book One-The First Attempt

    Prologue- The Dominion Begins
    A long time ago someone told me that there’s no such thing as a happy ending. And at the time I believed them. Because not everything can end happily. All we can do is try our best to make things happen the way that we want them to.
    But I’m getting in too deep for a prologue. My name is Kerena. And presently, my life has been through some tough times. But that’s really for me to decide, I’m not the reader, you are. This story is about me and my friends, and what happened when we discovered the Dominion of the Flame. The biggest war to be fought by any living mortal.
    Each one of us probably saw this happen in a different way, so I’m recording the beginning of this twisted fable in the eyes of my friends. The next few chapters contain the discovery that started this hullaballoo, and I do hope that by the end of this book your head isn’t aching, because mine is probably going to.
    In due course of this journal, your eyes may come across the tales of an evil sorcerer, a beautiful elfish queen, a lake monster, a selfish girl, sandstorms, and even a dangerous climb up a dangerous mountain.
    And so, I set you off on a journey of a lifetime- reading the Journal of the Four Stones. (Hey, at least you didn’t have to take the journey yourself!)

    Chapter One- One Stone, One Nightmare
    Have you ever had the feeling that something weird is going to happen, before it even happens? Well, that’s what I felt like when I woke up that Saturday. I was still lying down in my bed, looking up at my dark ceiling. Something had just awoken me. It hadn’t been my alarm clock. No, it hadn’t been my cat, Lucky, either. I stayed looking up at my ceiling, wondering what had woke me up.
    I shifted myself out of my bed, and walked over to my window, my sleek, cinder colored cat at my heels. I pulled back my orange blinds, and looked up at the sky. The sun was just beginning to rise. The sun in my face must’ve helped me remember, because now I could see last night’s nightmare flash by in a series of images.
    A sword slashing down into the ground, a boy with jet red hair setting a stick on fire, an eternal light blasting off its dark surroundings. And that stone. An unnatural glowing turquoise stone emerging out of sadness, and desperation. It takes its place in the center of all, and eleven more gleaming bright stones encircle it.
    A musical voice booms out in the open space of time, as the stones do their spiritual dance. “All elements unite as one- FIRE!” -a scarlet red stone zoomed out of the circle and out of sight-“WATER!” -a dark blue stone followed after the red one- “EARTH!” -an emerald colored stone moved away. Then-“AIR!” -the stone that had been sitting in the middle of this little ritual zoomed forward and hit my eyes with a boom, as if my eye lids were a TV and something black and shiny had just hit the inside of it.
    Meow. Lucky pawed at my arm. I looked down at her and frowned. “Oh, bug off will you?” I demanded the cat. Lucky stared up at me annoyed, then slinked back into her cat bed. The only reason I kept her for all these years was because she was Dad’s cat. When Dad had died last year, and his will was discovered, we were all disappointed to see that Dad hadn’t fully completed the letter. It had started out: If I ever die, (which I doubt I ever will!) I give my few belongings to… Then it starts to fade out! So thanks to the stupid government, all of Dad’s stuff was sent to a homeless shelter. My friend Sam suggested “Why not just raid the place late at night! It’s not like those homeless dudes are going to like that stuff!”
    But Sam didn’t understand. She had never known my Dad. The most she ever said to him was, “See ya' later Mr. O!” If she had known my Dad, she would’ve known that Dad would probably have wanted his stuff to go to a homeless shelter, rather than end up in some old geezer’s attic.
    Especially since we had had such a close shave at ending up in a homeless shelter ourselves. I could recall that day with ease. It is hard to forget it; it will stain all American lives. A while ago we used to live in New York City, near Trinity Church. It had been my thirteenth birthday, and Dad was taking me to the Twin Towers for breakfast. When we arrived at the gift shop on the third floor, my Dad bought me a Miss Liberty Teddy. Its fur was a soft white, and it was wearing a velveteen green robe. In its left hand was a velvet torch; in its right hand was a velvet book. It was in a little plastic carrier that had a picture of the Twin Towers on the back.
    When we arrived at the plaza, we were seated at a table near the door. We had been about to order our food, when the ground shook violently. People’s screams filled the air. I stood up from my seat, to get a better look out the window. What I saw startled me. The neighboring tower had been knocked down.
    Dad followed my gaze, and pushed me out the door in a second. We weren’t the only people trying to leave in a rush. Waiters and customers, cooks and clerks. All were running for the nearest elevator. It was such a mass of chaos; I couldn’t make out what was going on. I tried to ask Dad what was the matter, but he just keep pushing me on. The sound of propellers could be heard overhead. I could remember the tower crashing. It had had a hole in its side. It dawned on me. The Twin Towers were under attack.
    When we came to the first elevator it shut. The second one did the same too. When we came to the third, it was just about to close when Dad put his hand in to stop it. He pushed me in and was about to climb in too, when a man close to the wall of the elevator said “Sorry, sir. This elevator is full. You’ll have to go to the next one.” Dad looked at me, than he looked at the man. Than he looked at me one more time and stepped away from the door. “Dad, no!” But it was too late. The elevator doors had closed. When I had gotten outside the tower, I stopped. I looked at the building. Any moment now Dad was going to walk out of those doors. Any moment. A bell had gone off in my head.
    Dad wasn’t coming out. And if I didn’t get moving, I wasn’t going to be coming out either. I ran for it. How long I’d been running, nobody knows. But by the time I could hear the second tower falling, I was at least ten blocks away from Trinity Church; at least ten blocks away from my death; at least ten blocks away from my dad. I stood there panting. A horrible pit in my stomach had formed. It felt as though someone had shot me. I looked down at my hand. The little Miss Liberty bear, was still there, staring up at me.
    I turned my eyes away from the window. I looked over my dresser, and at my shelf. Miss Liberty was still staring down at me, with a note of pride in her eyes. I couldn’t see what there was to be proud about. Dad was gone. He hadn’t even had a proper funeral. My dad had been an author, and had provided a lot of the money in the house. But he had brought most of it to the towers. We hadn’t had enough money to give him a funeral. But it wasn’t only that that irritated me. My dad had been one of the bodies that couldn’t be found. So instead the grave stone in our back yard said, “DANEIL OSWORTH, LOST IN BOMBING, 1956-2001.” After the ceremony, (If you could call it a ceremony) I never went into the backyard. I almost never left the house, period. Except for school, the house was my main hangout.
    Now, it was one year from all that, and it was my fourteenth birthday. It was the weekend, and I felt very much like staying in my room. But that feeling that something weird was going to happen, prodded me to leave the house. And besides, my mom was calling me.
    “Kerena! Wake up, sweetie! It’s your birthday!” she said the last few words like she had won the lottery. I didn’t see anything happy about my birthday, seeing that it was the anniversary of my dad’s death, as well as many others. “Kerena? Are you in there?” There was a rap on the door.
    “I’m comin’ Mom!” I told her. I scrambled over to my dresser, and put on a red T, and a pair of jeans. I opened my door and my mom was waiting there. “Happy birthday, sweetie!” she rang out. If I hadn’t shoved past her, and into the kitchen, she probably would’ve started to sing “Happy Birthday”.
    Our kitchen is very small, with white tile counters lining two walls. On the far wall, there was a dishwasher underneath the counter. To the left of that, was a sink. On the wall nearest to my bedroom, there was an oven, also underneath the counter. In the middle of the kitchen, also covered in white tile, was an island that stood in for a kitchen table. Except for the dishwasher, the sink, and the oven; everything was white.
    I walked over to the island, and grabbed some toast. I pulled up a stool, and began munching on my toast. My mom followed me in the kitchen, a little depressed that I hadn’t waited for more birthday praises. She, too, pulled up a stool at the other side of the island.
    “So, what are you going to do today?” she asked in a more serious tone.
    I shrugged. “Maybe I’ll go to Main Street to get some books.”
    I began to eat more quickly, so that I wouldn’t have to listen to the "your-dad-would’ve-wanted-you-to-be-happy" speech, which was bound to come up today. When I had no more toast in my hand, (but plenty in my mouth) I rushed out of the room, to the mud room, and pulled on my jacket. I had my hand on the front door’s knob when Mom called, “Kerena, wait!”
    She came into the mud room and began rummaging around her coat pocket, which was hanging from the coat hanger. She then produced a ten and a five dollar bill. “Here,” she shoved it towards me, “for you.” I stared down at the money. The way she had said to take it, made you feel like she really didn’t want you to have the money. I regretfully took the money from her. Noticing the look on my face she added, “I hope you have a happy birthday,” in a gentler tone. She gave me a small kiss, and I walked out the door.
    I walked down Main Street, with my hands in my coat pockets. In most towns, Main Street was the biggest and busiest street. But in Louisville, everything was small- even the squirrels. Only a few stores dotted the street, and most of them were completely useless. A couple were wine and liquor stores, others were antique stores, which you mostly found fakes in. Upon my arrival in the town, I had seen that there was a small bookshop at the end of the street called, “YE OLDE BOOKSHOP”. I had never been there since I stayed at my house mostly, but I had vowed to visit someday.
    The gravel I walked on was old, and worn away. Moss grew in between the cracks, and it was very bumpy. Few people walked past me, and they didn’t bother to look at me. I looked down at the ground, coat hood over my head. I didn’t feel like looking up. It was easy to know where I was going. I had walked this street plenty of times. I had to walk this street on my way to school after all. I walked a few more blocks before I turned to my right, and pushed open an oak wood door. There was a jingle of bells, and I looked up.
    The bookstore looked more like a library. On the left wall there was an oak desk, the same color as the door. The walls were lined with bookshelves, with books of all kinds. In between the back wall and the front door, there were three bookshelves. They all ranged to at least thirty feet in length. The whole store was at least fifty feet long. The only source of light in the room was small lanterns that hung from in between the bookshelves. The only person in the shop was an old woman, who was at least in her nineties, and was sitting behind the oak desk, which now turned out to be a register.
    I walked into the store as quickly, and as quietly as I could. The woman behind the register paid no attention to me. She must have turned her hearing aid off, or something, I thought. I tiptoed behind the first bookshelf. I looked around. Nobody was there. Even if it wasn’t the crack of dawn, this place would probably be empty, I assumed. I started to search the shelves.
    The first books I came to were all things like, Ancient India- The Makings of an Empire, or, How Great Leaders Became Great. I continued down the aisle, and nothing really came to interest. I kept going forward. Lamer book titles ran across my eyes.
    Minutes passed, and it was hard to tell how long I had been looking at books, especially since there wasn’t a clock in the shop. I stopped at the middle of the last bookshelf and took out the money my mom had given to me. My mom didn’t look like she wanted me to use the money anyway. I’ll just leave, I thought to myself. And I began to leave.
    Then something caught my eye. I turned back to the bookshelf I had been walking down. I was staring at a turquoise colored book. Its bind was old and dirty, and there was no title on it. Curious, I pulled it out of the shelf. The front of the book was just as empty. It seemed to be made of stone.
    Still full of curiosity, I opened it up. I had expected old rotting pages; put it proved not to be a real book at all. When I opened it up, the pages proved to be stone too. On the right page, there was a little hole the shape of a circle. In the hole was a turquoise stone. It was vaguely familiar. Then I remembered the twelve stones circling in my dream. Taken in by its beauty, I leaned against the shelf and felt at the page. It was cold, as if it had been left out in the autumn air for to long. Then a sense of longing came forward.
    Its mine said a hissing voice in my head. It belongs to me. I stretched my hand out. I touched the smooth surface. Wind rushed around me. The floor came up to my head. I was falling down a dark passage way. Dark and cold clamped at my skin. My gut had flown into my stomach. I was falling, falling… The last thing I could remember was the bright smooth stone clutched in my hand. The only source of light, in my flight to the under world.

    Chapter Two- Imoa and the Red Amber
    “Hey, Clef!”
    It was Fred Huick. He was a short boy with a matt of strawish brown hair. I turned around to see him. What did he want now? I had come from the basketball court, and Larry and his guys had decided to switch to “Imoa Dribble”, instead. I now had bruises all over my arms, and a black eye. Fred, who was one of the supporters for Larry, wasn’t exactly the person I wanted to see at the time.
    When Huick caught up with me he bent down to put his hands on his knees, so that he could catch his breath. When he just about had it back, he said, “How-how are you?”
    “Spectacular.” I snapped.
    “Sor-sorry ‘bout the fight,” he continued.
    “Seem like they were fighting more than I was.”
    We had started to continue down Fourth Avenue. People walked past us, staring. I tried to ignore them.
    People had been picking on me since I had come here. My mom is a doctor, and she travels to a lot of different hospitals. When we came to Boston, it was the same old ordeal. Being shoved into lockers, beat up on the kickball field, and lots of other fun stuff. Its not like I’m stupid, or ugly or anything. Actually I think that’s why they pick on me mostly. My school isn’t what you’d exactly call the “brainiac academy.” Most kids suck it up with F’s all the time. Me, it’s A’s, A’s, A’s. I don’t even really try!
    At first they figured they could use me as a cheat sheet to impress the teachers. But then when I refused, they got the drift that I was some stuck up pretty-boy, which I’m not. They started to force me to do their work. It was real embarrassing. Especially since my little sister kept getting into it. You see, my little sister thinks she has to be all protective over me. So, whenever Larry and his friends would gang up on me at school, she would interfere, and I would have to protect her as well as myself. Then I ended up twice as worse.
    We continued on in silence; past the busy restaurants and stores. City buses honked past us, and city cars were aplenty. Boston was always like that. There was so much business in Boston, that even the stock holders didn’t know the complete 411.
    After a while of listening to the traffic of Boston, Huick said, “Hey, man, I’m really sorry. Tell ya’ what? I’ll buy you a mocha down on Hudson Street. K?” I shrugged. There were two reasons I could think of for not going there. One, I absolutely hated mocha. Two, if there was one thing I didn’t want to do, it was go down to Hudson Street. Hudson Street wasn’t only the road where Larry lived, but the Coffee Shop, where Huick was no doubt taking me to, was his and his friend’s second-favorite hang-out.
    I shrugged because I didn’t see any real harm in it. I said “Sure,” two seconds later because at the moment, a mocha sound pretty ok for a guy who just got beat up.
    We walked round the corner of Fourth Avenue, and walked up Elm Street. We continued for a while till we came to the brig of Hudson Street. We took a right and headed down a dark ally, I’ve never seen before. I was just about to ask if we were going in the right direction when Huick turned to face me. Now he shrugged his shoulders. “I’m really sorry Clef,” he said, backing up into the back end of the ally, where seven or so trash cans were in a heap. This was strange. Why had he now told me “sorry” three times? I smelled a rat. “Huick?” I said cautiously, “What are you talking about?” From habit (and instinct) my fists were clenched. He just shrugged his shoulders again and said, “Sorry, Clef.”
    My heart jumped. Larry and the guys had just emerged from the trash tins. I felt a sudden rush of anger at Huick. It had been a trap. He and Larry had planned this. I was a mouse, and I had been caught in the trap.
    “You played me!” I shouted at him. Once again, he just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Sorry, Clef.” I felt real stupid. I could’ve gone back any minute. What was even worse was that I had suspected this in a way. I had been played right into Larry’s hands.
    Larry and his friends advanced on me. I kept my ground. If you’re thinking that while I looked at him, it was like looking into the face of death, you’re wrong. He had messy brown hair, and an overly large nose. He was rather fat, with freckles dotting his face. He was very ugly really.
    I was ready to fight. I wasn’t scared, just nervous. It seemed like hours before he finally reached me. “Ready, Clef?” he said in a supposed-to-be scary voice.
    “So where do you want it? The head, the stomach, the gut?”
    “Surprise me.” I snapped.
    He moved forward and swung a punch. It hit me square in the face. Larry and his friends laughed. I wished that my face wouldn’t twist up so much from the pain, but it did. Larry defiantly had it in for him as a sumo wrestler. I couldn’t help but notice that Huick wasn’t laughing. On the contrary, he looked like he was going to be sick. I wish he would’ve laughed. I dared him to laugh at the sick game Larry was playing. But I had a feeling that Huick had been forced to betray me. With consequences.
    Larry stopped laughing at me and took another swing. Anger radiated from me like a cauldron that was filled to the brim with boiling water. I grabbed his hand before it could come any where near my face. Sizzle, sizzle. “Ahhhhh!” Larry cried. He yanked his hand back. It was singed red. He backed up on the wall, with eyes wide open, staring at me obliviously. Huick and Larry’s friends did the same. They looked like a bunch of kindergarten babies backed up against that wall. I could’ve laughed.
    The lot of them scooted their way around the edge of the ally, as if I were some vicious animal. They continued in this fashion till they were facing the dead end, and me. I decided to play it up. I took a step forward and stretched out my arms. “Excalibur presto!” I said in a mocking magician voice. “AHHHHHHHH!” they all screamed. Then the scrambled around the ally like a bunch of blind bats. Larry, the fat pig he was, pushed aside everyone, and the lot of them screamed down Hudson Street like a bunch of ill-behaved monkeys.
    I smiled. But to even smile hurt, so I stopped soon. I too walked out of the dead end, but I turned left, heading towards Bronson Street. I passed many little brick houses, many blind beggars, many bloody fights. But my mind wasn’t yet focused on the dangers of Boston, Massachusetts. How did I burn Larry’s hand? That was the question that flooded my mind. Or even more, Why did I burn Larry’s hand? Or more importantly, How do I do it again?
    When I got to my street, I walked up to the third house on the left. It was a little brick house with black shutters. It was only a three room house, with one main eating room and bathroom. When I got to the door I was glad to see that it was still locked. Mom wasn’t home yet.
    Its not like we need anymore room in our house; a few years ago Mom and Dad divorced. That’s what really made living here bad. First of all, my dad had refused to take me to live with him. He said that he didn’t have the time and money, or something. Then secondly, he had also refused to take my eight-year old sister too. So not only did I have to put up with moving to schools every few months, I had to find a way to ditch my sister when I was at school. Oh brother.
    I pulled my spare keys from my pocket and unlocked the door. When I and slipped through, I closed the door and locked it. I turned to face the house. I was in the living room, a small room with one couch, one lounge chair, a TV, and a fireplace. Though it sounds like a lot, it was really just squeezed into a small space. An open gap that lead to the kitchen was on the rear wall. In the fireplace was a crackling fire.
    I pulled of my sweat shirt and plucked myself down on the couch. I lounged there for a while, staring at the cackling fire. My eyelids drooped with the heaviness of sleep. Then something awoke me. One of the hot ambers were glowing a bright scarlet red. I thought this awkward; the fire didn’t seem that hot. I got a strong sensation to pull it out of the fire to examine it.
    That was ridiculous. I would singe my hand, or worse. But then I remembered how I had burned Larry’s hand. If I can burn Larry’s hand, then I can grab that amber. I got closer to the fire, and reached out my hand. If I could just nudge it forward, it was mine. Slowly, I reached in deeper. Sweat was on my hands now. I could feel my shirt getting damp. My hands were almost touching the fire now. Steady as she goes now, I thought to myself. Just dash in and grab it. I took a deep, steadying breath. Then, before I could notice anything else around me, I shoved my hand in and snatched the amber.
    There was no time to be proud of myself. The minute I laid my hands on that amber, fire encircled me. It didn’t burn though. Everything was a confusion of bricks, fire, and heat. My head spun. I took in a mouthful of ashes. And before I could grab onto anything, I had sunk below the floor, and I was hurtling downward, with the amber (now I realized it to be a stone) still clutched in my hand.

    Chapter Three- The Stone in the Pool
    Screeeech! The swimming coach had blown her whistle. “Come on, Killagin! Move those arms!” Mary Ann gave a low growl next to me. Swimming practice had never been easy, especially since Coach Granman had joined. She was a stout woman, with muscles so big, if they had had eyes, the look would’ve killed. She had blonde hair she continually put up in a ponytail, and wore sweat jumpers daily. Though she continued to profess the swimming practices, I couldn’t help but notice that she never got in the water.
    “Come on Ann!” I whispered to her hoarsely.
    “My arms are going to fall off!” she whined. “If only you ever got tired, or started to prune, then you’d start complaining!”
    “Come on, Killagin!” Coach Granman hollered, “Move them arms!”
    Mary Ann ignored her. “Unfortunately, not everyone’s a swim star like you, Pahra!”
    “I try!” I teased. She grunted and continued doing her lap. As fastest swimmer in the school, it didn’t take long for me to pass her. It is strange. I never really do get tired in the water. I shrugged to myself mentally. I knew that there had to be a ton of people who never got tired while swimming a couple laps. Or several. Or dozen. Or three dozen. Oh, OKAY! It’s not normal! But what was I supposed to do about it?
    “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO ABOUT IT?” I stopped in mid-stroke. Oops, did I just say that out loud? Everyone around me was staring at me, gaping. I sunk under the water.
    I was used to it by now. I made such a fool of myself daily, you could call it a habit. Falling over in my chair, tripping on the teacher’s desk leg, yelling my personal thoughts in public. It was such a habit, that the students of East High had gotten used to it too. That’s why I wasn’t so afraid anymore. Because East High had gotten so used to it, that they no longer made fun of my follies.
    I had been at East High, Jacksonville for one year, and my freshman year had been full of mistakes just as this year would. I would’ve died of embarrassment on the first day if hadn’t been for Mary Ann; my fellow folli-er, and Eric Wallgan; my still-to-this-day boyfriend. Most boys found me unsettlingly attractive, despite the fact I trip over my feet every few strides. My brilliant blue eyes were the most appealing; next my dark shade of skin, which was so smooth and rich, the touch of it looked like it would melt your hand. My hair was, too, rich and smooth; but it was a Hershey brown that matched the chocolate bars tone perfectly. The thought makes people hungry.
    Eric had been one of the first boys to fall under my spell. A swish of my hair, and I had him. He was, like me, extremely beautifully made. His vanilla white skin was to die for, matched with his bright green eyes, and milk chocolate hair. If you looked at the two of us, you might think the chocolate factory messed up its latest flavor.
    Eric and Mary Ann had helped me out, and I owed them big. I had changed a lot from last year. Now I was fully aware of all the challenges and mistakes to make. But that wouldn’t stop me from embarrassing myself in front of the whole student body.
    I continued doing my laps, and the people who had been staring had stopped. Actually, they had started to keep edging farther from my lane in the pool, as if my gooties would make them a psycho-path. Even Mary Ann was a reasonable distant.
    The East High swimming pool was the size of a football field, with about ten lanes roped with red bobbers. The water was a dark clear blue, and tasted nothing of chlorine. The linoleum tile floor was constantly dripping with water. The walls were white painted concrete. A series of diving boards lined the north wall for the diving team. I was too afraid of heights to join the club though. On the west wall was two doors on opposite corners. In black lettering, the one to the left read GIRLS; while the one on the right read BOYS. Though it should’ve read; GIRLS and RYAN PACTRICA, because he was the only boy on the team. The way he walks from practice, you’d think he was a big shot movie star, just walking away from his dressing room.
    The thing I like most about practice was that at the end we have to tread water. Usually, you keep your head above the water as long as you can. But Coach Granman made us stay under the water for thirty seconds or less. If you didn’t do it long enough then you would owe her ten push-ups at the end of practice. What I liked about it was that with my head completely under water, the sounds and sights of the over world disappeared. I could hold my breath down there for ages. I would too, if the exercise wasn’t at the end of practice.
    It was time for the last exercise and everyone else was exhausted. My arms were a little num, but I still could’ve gone for a few more hours. We circled near the south wall, in the biggest lane. Coach was up on the linoleum, with her whistle in her mouth. I waited in the water, ready to duck under. Screeeech! I went under, and looked around my under-water surroundings.
    It was dark and dank; clean and fresh. It was a great relief to be under the water. The swish of the water encircled my ears. I looked around at my surroundings. The walls of the pool were the same white linoleum as the floor. A circular drain was at the end of the pool, sucking in the pools dirty contents. A water turbine was spitting water into the deep fathoms of the pool. But something about the water made it sparkle more than usual. I peered around the dark pool, looking. Then in the right of corner, a glowing source of light caught my eyes. When I squinted a little harder, I saw that it was emitting from a smooth, solid object.
    The light sound of a whistle sounded above me, echoed by the water. My head bobbed back to the surface of the water. My fellow students were panting around me. I stared back into the fathoms of East High swimming pool; I must’ve been there a while, because I heard the unexpected growl of Coach Granman.
    “Move it, Slands!” I whirled around in the water to face her.
    “Right, sorry,” I said while scrambling up the east ladder. She shook her head.
    I made my way to the girls’ dressing room, dripping wet. What could’ve that thing been? I considered this thought as I walked up to my pink locker. I opened it, and rummaged for my clothes. Then I walked to the changing booth, also pink, and changed into my “Every-girls-has-a-boy-checking-her-out” shirt and jeans. I stuffed my bathing suit and towel into my beach bag, and hauled the straps over my left shoulder. When I got out of the dressing room, I made a beeline for the right corner of the pool, instead of the EXIT door on the north wall. I had made up my mind to investigate that glow.
    I shifted my self so that I had a good angle of view. I squinted my eyes to get a better look in the pool. The more I stared, the more I realized that my reflection wasn’t the only one in the pool. Cold, pale faces were staring up at me. Most of their expressions were gaunt or haunted, but blank. But some looked fearful, even horrified. Their hair swished around in the water, as if down the under world, a breeze was stirring. But it wasn’t just in the under world, a slow, dragging breeze had just swished around me, making the water ripple. All the sudden, I could feel my feet being dragged toward the water.
    My eyes were transfixed on the sullen, pale faces in the water. Their wide eyes seemed to lolling around in their sockets. There were no irises or pupils. Just white emptiness. I could feel myself lunge at the pool. For a moment, I felt like I wanted to be with them. But before I could realize what I was doing, I fell, face first, into the now black pool.
    I felt like I had been hit with an ice cube. A strong wave of cold water washed over me, drenching my clothes. The water foamed around me. I looked around. A distant horror dawned over me. Those pale faces were floating toward me, with their own glowing body. Bony, cold hands out stretched; they clawed at me, searching for something amongst my clothes. It felt like every bone in my body had gone missing.
    Just then a bright blue light went of in the black distance. I stared at it and all the hope in the world seemed to re-inflate inside of me. And for that same reason, all of the haunted persons turned to face it too. Shrieks of fear filled the air. All of the deep blank faces turned to faces of horror. They shrieked and yelled, shrinking into the darkness. I looked around the dark pool wondering if I dared go to look at the thing that had saved my life.
    I swam a couple of lengths and stopped to look around for any sign of disturbance. When I saw none, I averted my eyes back to the glow. I swam as fast as I could, fully aware that this was a life or death situation. When I reached it, my eyes were blinded by the most wonderful light I had ever seen. But it dimmed, and the light revolved into a dark blue stone.
    I marveled at it. It must have a really strong bulb in there, I thought to myself. Then I re-thought, A waterproof one. I looked around the darkness for any sign of the ghost people. No sign of life form. I waved my hand over it, to see if it was protected by binds I could not see. There was nothing but cold water. My clothes were really starting to get heavy, if I didn’t get to the surface soon, I would drown.
    But then for the first time I noticed something. I wasn’t holding my breath. I was actually breathing in the water. It had been so clammy down there that I hadn’t noticed that I was actually breathing. And what was really weird was that I could even see my breath in the water; like white vapor mists on a cold day. But I couldn’t be under water then. It was impossible. I waved my arms to see if I was truly at the bottom of a pool, and was surprised to feel water rush past my arms.
    Shaking my new discovery away for a time, I carefully inched my hands toward the stone, which was still sitting in the corner, giving a slight glow. With one deep breath (and I swear that when I re-thought that moment I swallowed a minnow), I reached at it. There was a jerking feeling in my navel. My head seemed to spin, and water drowned into my ears, making them ring. The people from the under world had emerged, and were watching me with anger in their blank eyes. I could feel the water rushing around me. A whirlpool.
    My head continued to spin uncontrollably, and it felt like my stomach might explode. Then I was falling. Not through water, but through cold blackness. The stone in was still at my hand, but in the deep darkness, it felt like warm pacific water.

    Chapter Four- Loreana Takes a Hike
    “This is soooo boring! What was the purpose of bringing us to the ‘land of the swamp-biters anyway? It’s not like we didn’t know this stuff in science already!”
    I was pissed off. I couldn’t believe how dumb this was. I had had a chance to take a trip to New York City- home to some of the biggest designer companies (which I plan to be one day- a designer, not a company by the way)- but instead I had been forced by my parents on this little “nature hike.” Apparently my parents think that my science average wasn’t meeting expectations- which it wasn’t. I’m actually on the verge of failing the class.
    But it’s not like a care. Its just science after all. It’s not like I’m ever going to use it when I’m a hot shot fashion designer. So, here we were- me and my friends anyway- staring at a cluster of lily pads like a television set.
    “Pssst… Olivia!” I whispered to my blonde air-headed friend.
    “You know what Loreana,” she said breathlessly, looking blank, “I think that the trees are actually speaking!”
    “That was me you idiot!” I said hoarsely. Olivia stared into space.
    “Ohhh…,” she said, “right.”
    “Look, I’m going back to the bus, if Mr. Peterson notices I’m gone, just cover for me, ok?”
    “Do you want me to cover you in leaves or something?” she asked dumbly.
    “No, you idiot! I want you to make an excuse for me not being here!”
    “Oh… right,” Olivia breathed. I shook my head and slinked away into the trees, thinking why I had every sought upon Olivia of all people to be my friend once a very long time ago. She’d never really been a friend- more like an admirer. She was always trying to be my look-alike.
    For instance, today she was wear her usually curly hair down and straightened like mine- she had also dyed her hair platinum blonde like my hair a couple years back. She bought all the same make-up and even had got those contacts that change the color of your eyes so that they could be the same startling green mine were. The only thing we actually have in common was the color of our skin. We both had fair white skin that was slightly tan from days in a tanning booth, with hardly any blemishes.
    She’ll never come close to looking like the original, I thought to myself, as I pushed more branches out of my way. Suddenly I pulled out of my thoughts of Olivia the wanna-be, and into my surroundings. Had I been here before? Was the parking lot this way? Suddenly I realized that the trip from the parking lot hadn’t been this long. Hadn’t I seen that twisted tree before? I’m going in circles!
    Franticly I started running forward. Maybe if I could find a clearing I would be able to find out where I was. I looked all around me. There was nothing but leaves, trees, bushes, and twigs. Nothing was familiar! How did this happen? I was walking towards the right place, but I was still going the wrong way.
    The leaves of the trees over head were clustering in big bunches as a walked on forward, everything was getting darker as the sunlight disappeared. I started into a run. Suddenly everything went black. I felt around for a branch or a tree trunk to grab onto to, but the surrounding vegetation had seemed to disappear. I felt in darkness for what could have been minutes, but felt like hours.
    Then light faded back into my vision. My new surroundings were now glowing slightly. I was standing in a clearing with a luscious waterfall that poured out of a granite cliff base at the end of the clearing and into a beautiful clear blue pool of water. The overgrowth remained on the hedges of clearing, and on the top of it, creating a green, leafy ceiling. The soft glow of light in this strange opening didn’t seem to come from sunlight or any light source at all.
    I stared around trying to absorb it all. How was this possible? There was no way that this was actually in the skanky, smelly swamp I was in a few minutes ago. I continued to stare around in hope of an explanation for this freak of nature. As a looked around I noticed something. The soft glow that had been illuminating this irregular clearing did actually have a source of light.
    An emerald green gem was sitting across the crystal blue pond just underneath the downpour of the waterfall filtering into the crystal blue pond. Though it didn’t seem like the jewel could fill the entire opening with light, somehow or another it managed to light it all up.
    An unusual curiosity swept over me. Why was such a beautiful gem all the way out here?
    “It can’t belong to anyone,” I thought firmly. “Nobody just leaves items like this at the bottom of a waterfall.”
    But then how does something like this find its way here?
    “What does it matter?” I thought, answering myself. “Some animal might’ve picked it up thinking it was food.” There was nothing keeping me, so why was I still conflicting going to get it?
    “Because I don’t want to get my brand new shoes wet?” No that wasn’t it. But it was like this was a much more important decision than a matter of getting your heels stuck in the mud or not. Whatever, it was just a dumb rock after all. So I took of my high heels, and lifted my mini skirt ever so slightly, and began to wade into the clear blue water.
    The water was delightfully warm, and the pale mud that floored the pool was squishy and light in between my toes- better than any foot massage I could’ve paid for at a health salon. I strode towards the gem- jewel- whatever you’d like to call it- and as I did the light that seemed to circulate around the closure from this gem seemed to pulse. I could almost hear it beating, a small thump that somehow seemed to shake the ground and the water above it, sending ripples of water lapping against my legs.
    Soon as the stone thumped, my heart did to. It was as if we were one. We must be one- there was no question. There was not a wisp of the thought that had spoken to me on the shore of this lagoon, telling me not to come any closer. I had but one purpose, one function- reaching out my hand so that I could hold this little heartbeat in my palm. It wasn’t a want or a desire- it was a need. I stretched out my hand, and closed my fingers.
    The earth began to rumble, and I snapped out of my sleepwalker’s state. As Iooked around, no longer blinded from my fate, I saw vines twisting down from the trees now alive in a way no tree I have ever seen as been. The twisted towards me, winding, stretching. I couldn’t scream, and I was starting to forget how to breathe. So I ran.
    I had barely even taken a step towards the shore when the sand that lay beneath my feet that had seemed so delightful just one moment ago, swallowed my feet in their entirety. I couldn’t scream, run, or breathe. All I could do is close my eyes as I felt myself being pulled down beneath the bottom of the pool, and even further into a dark shrinking cold hole. Falling, with nothing to comfort me. The tiny heartbeat, still pulsing in the palm of my hand. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

    Chapter Five- Kerena’s Discovery
    Light came into my vision, and I realized my eyes had been closed. I squinted in the bright, new light, so different than the dark that I had been currently seeing. Where had the dark come from? How had my eyes come to close? Where had I been?
    Than I remembered the current events just like a slide show, showing clip after clip in my head. The book store, the stone that didn’t belong, the wanting, and my sinking into a dark abyss, with no light but the stone glowing a soft light blue. I looked down at my hand where the stone still was, clenched in my fist. As I looked at it, its glow diminished, and it turned black, and cold. Though the energy still remained.
    I looked around at my new surroundings. I was standing in a pavilion of white granite, with only the slightest touch of wear; vines growing up some of the pillars, giving the place a peaceful, subtle look. Outside the pavilion, trees grew here and there, and a small stream that wound its way around the roots of the trees. I was facing towards the woods, and the sunlight that filtered through the tall trees hit me with such warmth, it was surprising that a few minutes ago I had been walking in the cold fall wind, with my hood up, the wind blowing tassels of my hair up into my face.
    The strangest thing yet was the sunlight itself. It shone so different than the sunshine back in Louisville- it was crisper, cleaner, and brighter. It seemed to have such a simple radiance about it that made for such a lovely atmosphere. What I would’ve given to stay out there forever. I walked over to the hedge of the pavilion, and gripped the white granite railing as I looked over. I realized that I was higher than I had thought- at least twenty or so feet off the ground, though the river felt so close; I wanted to reach out and try to grab it. But my moment was short lived. “Hem-hem,”
    I whipped around to look at this interference and was surprised to see a beautiful woman, with long straight black hair, and fair skin that looked as smooth as a baby’s. She had a skinny figure, but not scrawny- just like the hot chicks you see on magazines really. Except she was wearing an old fashion dress, of some green leafy material (I wondered if they really were leaves.), and a silver band was around her head, with two long and pointy ears protruding over them, making her look royal- and strange. At her feet lay a sleek gray-haired cat, with black streaks across its face and it’s under belly. I’ve never seen a cat that could look so majestic, and yet dangerous at the same time.
    For the first time since I’d entered this new place I felt truly scared. Maybe I had been a little frightened before, but this anxiousness had now been replaced with a sudden realization that left a dark pit in the middle of my heart- one that was growing and growing. Because now it was clear that I was nowhere near home- and I had no way of knowing I’d be going back.
    Scared, and confused I looked around, discovering, as the pit in my heart grew too large to fit in my chest, and slowly began to rise in my throat, that me and this woman weren’t the only ones there. To my left there were two girls- one was fairly wet, with black hair and coffee colored skin. The other was tall, blonde, and insanely thin. Both seemed to be picking them selves up, as if they had just been on the ground. But on my right was a black haired boy, with pale looking skin, covered from head to toe in what I could guess was soot. Though covered in ashes, I could tell that he was very handsome. My heart jumped a little.
    I started to feel very cold, and I could feel myself going pale. It felt like when I had had to stand at dad’s funeral; when it had started to rain- and I didn’t like that. As I started to back up against the wall, looking for all I know like a wounded animal, the woman turned to look at me with kind eyes.
    “Thank you for coming,” she said, her voice flowing gently over every word like a different note of a melodious song. I blinked at her stunned, shaking my head of her voice. Her tone was enchanting, but at the same time dangerous. Everyone was looking around the pavilion, just like a group of new kids on their first day of school, though the woman seemed completely ignorant of this.
    “Excuse me,” said the girl with coffee-colored skin began carefully, “But, where are we?” The woman looked delicately confused, as if what had been said was some kind of joke.
    “Gendoraa, capital city of the land of the elves,” she said sweetly, “But you already knew that?” The girl that had spoken looked taken aback. The blonde skinny girl went rigid, and the boy covered in dirt, jaw hung open. I just stood there blinking. Elves. Elves?
    “Land of the elves?” the boy said incredulously, “I’m punch drunk- one too many sucker punches from Larry.” She just smiled sweetly.
    “Look, I don’t exactly know where this “Land of the Elves” is,” blonde and skinny started, “but could you please direct me to the parking lot- you see, I got lost…”
    “Lost?” said the woman in the leafy dress. “No, no not lost dear child. Certainly you know why you’re here?” There was a pause as her sweet smile faded a little with concern. She looked carefully from each one of us, and lingered on me. “Surely you know?” she asked me. I shook my head hard.
    “No,” I said quietly. She frowned, and turned to her cat, which was still winding its way around her ankles